Trial begins in N.H. teen rape case
Woman describes church shaming
CONCORD, N.H. — The case against a man charged with assaulting and impregnating a 15-year-old from his congregation is about force, fear, and her faith in a church that shamed her and banished her to Colorado, a New Hampshire prosecutor said yesterday.
The trial of Ernest Willis of Gilford opened on a dramatic note, when the woman who says he raped her twice in 1997 testified about how “brutal’’ it was to face hundreds of churchgoers at Concord’s Trinity Baptist Church and apologize for getting pregnant out of wedlock.
Tina Anderson, now 29, said that she felt “completely humiliated; I felt like my life was over.’’
She said the Rev. Chuck Phelps, then the church’s pastor, arranged for her to move in with a Baptist family in Colorado and put her baby up for adoption.
She said she believed for years what church leaders told her: The rapes were her fault, and she must learn to forgive and forget.
The Associated Press usually does not identify those who say they are victims of sexual assault, but Anderson has agreed to have her name published.
During cross-examination, Anderson lashed out at defense lawyer Donna Brown for “badgering’’ her about discrepancies in her recollection of the sequence of events that summer.
“You cannot remember when you are 15 years old and scared out of your mind,’’ Anderson told Brown. “It doesn’t mean I was lying. I felt like my life was over.’’
Initially, Phelps reported the allegations to Concord police, but investigators could not locate Anderson, and the case was shelved. Last year, websites decrying what they called the cultlike nature of the fundamentalist Baptist group helped lead police to Anderson, living in Arizona with her husband and three children.
Anderson said she felt “complete shock’’ when she picked up the phone on her husband’s birthday last year and a Concord detective asked whether she wanted to discuss what happened in 1997.
Willis, 51, pleaded guilty last week to one count of having sex with Anderson. Willis denies having sex with her on more than one occasion and says the sex was consensual.
Anderson acknowledged yesterday she went to dinner with Willis at a restaurant about the time of her 16th birthday, after she said both rapes occurred.
“I needed to tell him I was pregnant,’’ Anderson testified.
Anderson testified she told both her mother and Phelps that the sex was not consensual.
The last witness yesterday was Anderson’s mother, Christine Leaf, who testified that she does not support her daughter, saying, “I only support the truth, not a lie.’’
Leaf acknowledged there is a letter of support for Phelps, written by her lawyer and signed by her, on Phelps’s website.